UMBC Department of Theatre’s opening night presentation of The Grown-Up, by Jordan Harrison, left this reviewer wondering: what was that? Though well-acted, Harrison’s play forces about 18 scenes into an 85-minute drama based on the first published work of a boy named Kai (Enzo Leone). I think. My first inkling was to question the narrative arc. Sleeping on it, I thought something tied everything together, but there is no plot, which leaves some audience members wanting, although the large college crowd appreciated what they saw.
The Grown-Up, directed by Joseph W. Ritsch, generally revolves around Kai, who is given a magical crystal doorknob by his grandfather that enables him to travel through space and time to see future events in his life. Of course, the grandfather has never used the magic crystal doorknob and the grandmother warns her husband against filling the boy’s mind with nonsense.
In order to escape playing hide-and-seek with his annoying little sister, Anna Bell, played by Gabby Grant, the 10-year-old Kia turns the knob and the stories begin. Each scene is played on a set of a beach shanty or ship deck composed by Caleb Griffith and Emmanuel Ankutse. It works wonderfully. The grandparents (“Iffy” Alachebe and Niara Taylor Richards) bought their house from a former pirate (David Tannous), the source of the doorknob. So the shanty makes sense and provides flexibility for a lifetime of events.
As Kai ages, he still attempts to believe magic is in his future. He learns old age is in his future. Finally, he accepts all is in vain. Leone as Kai was a wonderful child. He did well in Hollywood attempting to sell his concept for a show. But once the character hurries through the aging process—with each turn of the doorknob—the actor couldn’t keep up. The actor knew all the lines but people move differently as they age and Leone did not capture this.
Richards doubled as Rosie, a sassy young administrative assistant for a Hollywood TV mogul (Caleb Madison), as well as a very funny and realistic beauty queen. Unfortunately for her, Rosie finished No.2 in an Arkansas beauty contest and is now addicted to Adderall in an attempt at being the best assistant there ever was. Richards as Rosie does a great job of “maintain[ing] whatever reality is called for on any given day.” She is excellent in the role.
Madison played several roles well, but he knocked Mr. See out of the park. Mr. See lives in a world of “counter-context programming” and prefers buzzwords to objectify ideas rather than substance. He also has a vault of magical objects at his disposal.
Two things Leone and Grant are not prepared for are old age and death.
As Kai becomes a 39- or 55-year-old gay man after turns of the doorknob, Leone does not act—that is, move—like an aging man. He is dressed in his blue jeans and red Chucks throughout the play. This includes while he is in his 80s, blind and with his legs amputated. Still, those red Chucks the 10-year-old Kai wore on his grandparents’ porch are ever-present. Margaret Caster is the wardrobe head; Eric Abele is the costume designer. Between the two of them, the audience should not have seen the red Chucks in that scene.
When Grant as Anna Bell appears to give a final eulogy, she uses a walker and glasses and has an occasional tremor, but the props only go so far. Her voice falls in and out as that of an old woman thus failing to maintain character. While Leone is supposed to be in his 80s, he seemed to make little effort at sounding like an old man in his wheelchair.
Aging is an adventure everyone discovers, if they live long enough. No phase of life should be hurried through or skipped. As a dear old neighbor told me many times before she passed, and I have since learned the hard way, “Getting old ain’t for sissies.” Old age was actually beyond this young cast to play. Enjoy your youth, death is coming.
Running Time: Approximately 85 minutes without an intermission.
The Grown-Up plays through April 16, 2023, presented by UMBC’s Department of Theatre performing in the Proscenium Theatre in the Performing Arts and Humanities Building. For tickets (15, general admission; $10, students and seniors) go online.
Content Advisory: Strong language, talk about depression and drug use, and sexual situations. Please note that there will be strobe lights, theatrical haze, and fog.
Friday, April 7, 8 p.m.
Saturday, April 8, 8 p.m.
Friday, April 14, 8 p.m. (alumni night and audience talk-back, see below)
Saturday, April 15, 8 p.m. (prospective student night, see below)
Sunday, April 16, 2 p.m. (free matinee for UMBC students)
By Jordan Harrison
Directed by Joseph W. Ritsch
Cast: Enzo Leone (Kia), Gabby Grant (Anna Bell/Lane Heatherette), Ifechukwu “Iffy” Alachebe (Grandfather/First Mate/Barry/Minister), Niara Taylor Richards (Grandma/Rosie/Wedding Guest/Paula), Caleb Madison (Mr. See/Wedding Planner/Award Ceremony Emcee), and David Tannous (Josef the Fisherman/Steven/Cater Waiter/Miss McGinn).